A new article has placed some of the blame for the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic squarely on the shoulders of the food industry, saying the prevalence of obesity made the pandemic worse.
The article titled ‘Obesity and covid-19: the role of the food industry‘, was published in the British Medical Journal and cites obesity as an independent risk factor for severe illness and death from COVID-19.
Authors Monique Tan, Feng J He, and Graham A MacGregor say the covid-19 outbreak seems to be yet one more health problem exacerbated by the obesity pandemic.
A study of 17,425,445 participants using electronic health records showed a relationship between excess weight and severity of COVID-19. After potential confounders, including age, sex, ethnicity, and social deprivation, were adjusted for, the relative risk of critical illness from COVID-19 increased by 44 per cent for people who were overweight and almost doubled for those with obesity.
Similarly, after all other risk factors (including comorbidities) were fully adjusted for, the risk of dying from COVID-19 increased with obesity severity, from a 27 per cent higher risk in the first obesity category to more than doubling of the risk in the most obese category. Smaller studies from the Asia-Pacific region, Europe, and the US have confirmed these findings.
“The obesity pandemic is the result of living in food environments where it is difficult not to overconsume calories,” the article says.
“The global food industry produces and extensively promotes cheap, sugar sweetened beverages and ultraprocessed foods high in salt, sugar, and saturated fat that provide only a transient sensation of fullness. Governments have done too little, with one of the few successes being taxes on sugar sweetened beverages.”
The authors state that during the pandemic an increase in food poverty, disruptions to supply chains, and panic buying may have limited access to fresh foods, thus tilting the balance towards a greater consumption of highly processed foods and those with long shelf lives that are usually high in salt, sugar, and saturated fat.
“It is now clear that the food industry shares the blame not only for the obesity pandemic but also for the severity of COVID-19 disease and its devastating consequences,” they said.
“Food industries around the world must immediately stop promoting, and governments must force reformulation of, unhealthy foods and drinks.”